Head coach Ron Zook met with the media at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. Selected quotes are below. For the full video of the press conference, please click the link above.
"OK, obviously each game gets bigger and bigger as the season - as we go through the schedule like this and we're able to be where we are. As I told our football team, this is a team that's very, very dangerous. First of all, it's a very, very talented team, it's a very well-coached team, it's a team that's got their back against the wall and we'll see everything that they've got. I think it's going to be imperative that we continue to have the same - like we talked about - kind of have the same kind of practice we've had the last few weeks. Today was good; yesterday morning was good. They understand that they're going to get everything that Ohio State has. Health-wise, I think we're in good shape. (Receiver) Darius (Millines), he did a little bit out there today, not so much running, but on the bike and so forth. If he doesn't practice tomorrow, it'll probably, probably, be tough to get him out there. (Offensive tackle) Corey (Lewis), Corey was out there, Corey was in 9-on-7, was in team and, you know, so I mean there's a chance we'll get - get him in there. So I think health-wise we're probably about as good as we can be, but this will be a physical, physical football team. I think there's - if there's one word you sum up in this kind of game, it's going to be a physical game. And our guys are going to need to have their big-boy pads on and ready to play, and I think we will be."
On the scheduled return of Ohio State RB Dan Herron:
"You know, is he on? Is he? They're trying to get their starting lineup; it's going to probably be the first series because, you know, I think he'll probably be back. And I'm sure, you know, I mean, he's been practicing, so I mean, it's - you know - he just hasn't played. And he's probably biting at - chomping at the bit to get going. But I mean the other guy that's been in there, too, is pretty good, now. He `s a pretty strong runner; he ran pretty well last week and he's been running pretty well. So, you know, whoever that's out there, we're going to have to play against. And, you know, I don't think there's any question, you know, you're going to see Braxton (Miller), at least that's what the word is and we've just got to be ready to play whoever. I don't know that their offense is going to change an awful lot. They're going to, you know - as I said, this will be a physical game. They're going to line up and pound you."
On OSU's first-half success against Nebraska:
"Well, they - Braxton just - you know, they were playing fast and things were - I mean they were on fire until I don't know what, it's just something. When he fumbled there and then he got hurt, I think they've probably got a lot of confidence in him and, you know, when he fumbled and he got hurt, it might have taken a little air out of their sails. I think the crowd got into it and, you know, I'm - it's going to be exciting that we get - you know our crowd's got to be cranked up. I'm glad that we're doing stuff, striping the stadium and all those things because it's - I told our football team, we've got to light them on fire, we've got to light them and they've got to carry it on for us. It's going to be important."
On special teams, does the system need to be changed?
"It's not the system, I mean the system's no different from anybody else. It's the guys running down, it's the guy kicking the ball, it's the guys running down there making the tackle. You know, there's three guys here that weren't where they were supposed to be and that's the result when that happens - on the (opening) kickoff (against Indiana), I'm talking about. There will be some people changes."
On the Illini not getting ahead of themselves despite the 6-0 start:
"You know, I haven't noticed that and hopefully you guys don't put it in their heads. You know, our deal is just we got one game at a time. We don't look ahead, we don't look behind; they've done a pretty good job of that, in my opinion. We kind of equate it, like I said last week, to a game. And everyone's heard this, you know, you don't - you worry about the play and don't worry about the next play and don't worry about the last play. It's kind of the way we've approached the schedule. They understand that, you know, if we're not prepared and ready to play to the best of our ability, then, you know, everything we've done to now is for naught. And, you know, as I told them again this morning, you've got a team that's a very, very dangerous team. Because number one: they're a very talented; number two: they're very well-coached, and number three: we're going to get their best - we'll get everything they've got. And it's going to be important that we play the same way."
On the importance of getting a win against OSU at home:
"Well, I think it's imperative. I mean, well, not imperative, but it's awful important. Every game is important. You know, nowadays every game is important, it doesn't matter who you're playing. And obviously this is a, you know, historic program and trust me, they're not - they may be down a little bit, but they sure aren't out. And everybody - anytime you play anybody in the Big Ten, I think that's the thing you, you know, you have to preach all along is that you've got to be ready to play because anybody can beat anybody. And that's a perfect example, we were fortunate enough to go over there in '07 and - they were the No. 1 team in the nation, you know - threw caution to the wind and played."
On thoughts about OSU's situation with compliance issues:
"Well, I mean, I think it's bad for college football when that stuff happens and I think it's bad for, you know, obviously the Big Ten. But, you know, I think all of us when we were at our meetings, I think, you know, we understand that there are a lot of things out there that we all have to be very, very careful of. You know you try to learn from other people's mistakes and, you know, hope and pray that, you know, your guys make the right decisions."
On DE Whitney Mercilus' national recognition:
"Players are going to mature at their own level. And, you know, I've said this numerous times, at the end of the year - I thought the last five, six games - he was our best defensive end and he just keeps getting better, just like you'd want him to. He's getting experience; he's getting better and better and maybe he had a little further to go than some, but you know, I think the athleticism that he has, the acceleration that he has, the work that he's put in will...Whitney's a prime example of a guy that - we talk about how you live your life off the field is how are you going to live your life on the field. He's, you know, he's never really been an issue off the field in terms of class and doing the things that he's supposed to do and, you know, he gets better and better and the coaches are doing a great job of getting him in the position to make plays."
On the keys to success for the Illini defense:
"Well, I think the thing is we talk about, when the play is there, be in, you know, do what you do. Instead of going out and trying to make plays - a lot of times guys will go out and try to make plays and they'll get themselves out of position and end up hurting the defense, getting out of their gap or getting, you know, just trying to take chances. You know our guys are doing what they're coached to do; the coaches are doing a great job of putting them in position and then when the plays are there, they make them and that's what - that's team defense right there."
On WR A.J. Jenkins' improvements this year:
"Well, I said this all along, too. I think what you're seeing is a perfect example of what happens when you've got a quarterback that makes the receivers be out there throwing and you've got a guy that - guys - that have worked as hard as they've worked in the offseason. You know, I said it at the end of spring, the type of football team that we're going to be was going to depend on how hard or whether we got better from spring ball to August and they were going to have to do it on their own. And I think you can see that they've done that and a lot of that, that's what hard work and so forth, you know, does. And I think everyone knew that A.J. is a very talented guy, you know, he can do a lot of things and Coach (Paul) Petrino - just, you know, we got to make him play even better. And he can play better, I mean he dropped a couple balls Saturday that, you know, would have probably put him over 200 yards, you know, and those are things that, you know, we want him to be perfect on. Is he going to be perfect? Probably not, but you're going to get him to a level that I think everyone will be happy with."
On worrying less about this year's Illini football team off the field:
"I don't know that you worry any less. Anybody's vulnerable to it, there's a lot of (things) - particularly when you're having some success. You know, people tell them how good they are, patting them on the back, and you know all those things. But that's part of the - that's part of college football, you know, and this is not the NFL, this is college football and hopefully they're going to learn the lessons that are going to help them throughout their life."
On comparing this years team to the 2007 team:
"If there is a comparison, to me, it's that these guys are allowing the coaches to coach them and I think they're coaching them hard and demanding and pushing and, you know, that's one of the big reasons that we're having success. They're not getting their feelings on their sleeve and, you know, pouting. And they're going out there and trying to do what their coaches are asking them to do."